So it turns out that adults now spend more time online than offline – something which was inevitable, but still manages to be surprising. And with our kids starting their digital journeys younger than ever, it’s easy to see why parents feel it’s so important that their child has a healthy relationship with their digital device.
But what exactly constitutes ‘healthy’? And how much screen time is too much? I know my children have very different answers to these questions than I do. But with one child in their teens and another in their tweens, I can understand why. Devices have been part of their everyday lives for almost as long as they can remember, both at school and at home, while the only device I ever used in the classroom was a solar-powered calculator.
If you are facing a difference in opinion, there are a few steps you can take to find the right balance when it comes to kids’ screen time. Making sure they stay in touch with the real world, while still staying social, safe and part of the exciting technological revolution that their generation is so lucky to be leading.
Set the bar
I’ve found that one of the simplest ways to make sure my children have a healthy relationship with their digital devices is to involve them in setting boundaries around acceptable screen time. By giving them a say in how much screen time they think is (actually!) reasonable for day-to-day activities like homework, reading, watching their favourite shows and using social media, they’ve become more likely to stick to it. Telstra has put together a First Smartphone Agreement that families can use to make these kinds of decision together.
Thrive or skive?
Bear in mind that not all screen time is created equal. Think about the differences between using a device for homework or creative expression versus procrastinating on social media. My kids and I tend to allocate screen time for activities by merit – so the more valuable we all agree an activity is to their development, the more time they can spend doing it.
Put devices into sleep mode
As a family, try to agree on set ‘switched off’ times. This allows the kids to make sure they have enough screen-free time in their day to keep up with chores, hobbies, family life and friends, and it encourages them to make the most of their time online as well. Shutting down their screens an hour before bedtime is another way to help them get a better night’s sleep, too.
Play as a team
I always try to make sure I’m leading by example, so if I want the dinner table to be a device-free zone, that means the same rules apply to me, too. Devices are put on silent and out of arm’s reach. Children are generally happier to follow rules if they feel like everyone in the family is playing by them.
As any parent knows, you can’t be looking over your children’s shoulders at all hours of the day. Thankfully though, there are a range of parental control tools to help families become more mindful about screen-time habits. One of these is Telstra Mobile Protect – a free service with controls including time restrictions, which stop my kids using their phones when they should be sleeping (I know some adults who could do with that too!).
Plus, with Telstra Broadband Protect, I’m able to set device usage levels across our home network, which make sure the whole family powers down even if they don’t have the willpower to do it themselves.